01: Recent sociological and attitudinal research shows that in at least three areas of religious life, American fundamentalists are continuing their commitment to traditional teachings despite major society changes creating pressures for adaption ad compromise.
In their attitude towards pornography, sexually explicit materials, in their beliefs about premarital sexual intercourse, and in their suspicion of secular higher educational attainment, fundamentalists hold fast to the views inherited from their past. On pornography, Professors Darren E. Sherkat of Vanderbilt University and Christopher G. Ellison of the University of Texas-Austin, found that the fundamentalists’ resistance to sexually explicit materials stems directly from two historic commitments, moral absolutism and beliefs in the threat of social contamination within their ranks from involvement in the non-fundamentalist society.
The researchers write in the journal Social Forces (March) that their commitments to biblical inerrancy and comparatively high attendance records at church service, the fundamentalists have been able to oppose the generally liberalizing tendency of the larger society in allowing greater sexual freedom of expression through the various media.
As for premarital sex, Professors Larry K. Peterson and Gregory V. Donnenwerth of the University of Memphis present a cross-denominational study showing fundamentalists, in contrast to mainline Protestant and Catholic bodies, have continued to promote their historic antagonism to any form of sexual activity outside of marriage. In the same issue of Social Forces, the authors write that religious privatization has in fact come to dominate the beliefs of Protestants and Catholics as to personal choice of sexual activity before marriage, the authors show that fundamentalists continue to reject such individual preferences because they run contrary to absolutist morality commitments.
The authors suggest that the gap over premarital sex between these two groupings is “large” and will continue to grow larger. As long as the fundamentalists and conservatives continue to stress strict adherence to church doctrine and a literal understanding of the bible, they will hold to an absolutist position for their members.
Regarding educational attainment, Professors Alfred Darnell and Darren E. Sherkat of Vanderbilt University, show in a study published in the American Sociological Review (April), that Protestant fundamentalism has a decided, measurable effect on high school students’ educational aspirations. Using data from the Youth Parent Socialization Panel Study of the University of Michigan, they developed an six equations-model that looked at educational attainment, college preparatory work in high school, aspirations to continue education, high school grade point average, belief the Bible is the inerrant word of God, parents’ belief in Biblical inerrancy.
The authors conclude that the Biblical inerrantists have significantly lower educational aspirations than other high school students, and they are less likely to have taken college-preparatory courses. The researchers suggest that parents’ belief in Biblical inerrancy lead them to teach their children that educational attainment by non-fundamentalist standards are simply of little value.
(Social Forces, Univ. of North Carolina Press, Hamilton Hall 070A, CB #3210, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; American Sociological Review, 1722 N St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036)
— By Erling Jorstad